Start with a mirror, of course, but don’t do as I did. I bought a mirror in a frame with a beveled edge. That meant an uneven surface for gluing shells. Buy a flat frame. Glue on the shells. Yes, it’s that easy. Here are a few tips. (Learn from my mistakes!)
1. Sort your shells in advance. I rinse mine with tap water and set them on paper towels to dry. Then I sort them into plastic baggies with ziplock tops. Having them sorted makes it much easier to find what you need. Sort by size, type and color if possible. Sorting by size is particularly helpful!
2. Boil any coiled shells, especially whelks and spirals that might have small critters in them. I try never to take a shell with an occupant, but it can happen. If you don’t boil these ASAP, you will have a huge stinky mess. Trust me on this! You can pick out flesh with tweezers or a straight pin.
3. Include broken shells, large and small shells. Oddly enough, broken shells work very well because you can cover up the missing area, and their unusual shape makes them perfect for nestling against your big shells. Small shells are particularly desirable for snuggling into empty spots.
4. Play with location, putting down your large or most spectacular shells first BEFORE you start gluing things down. I set down an initial layer of shells and built on it.
5. Ventilate your work area. After I finished, I had a colossal headache. I didn’t realize how the fumes were building up.
6. Ignore the “Oh, crud” moment that occurs when you think, “This isn’t going to look right.” It will. I had that moment, but I kept working, even slipping bits of shells under the larger pieces.
7. Let your work dry thoroughly. Otherwise, the pieces can slide.
The glue I used was Quick Grip. I bought two tubes at Ace Hardware and used both tubes. It cleans up with acetone (nail polish remover). It dries clear. It was good and bad. Because it doesn’t completely “set” for 24 hours, I could move things around. It did get stringy, which was bad. I definitely used too much, but I decided to paint my shells with clear nail polish so the extra glue was less noticeable.
Cost: The mirror cost $10 at Walmart, the two tubes of glue came to $8, and the nail polish was about $5. So the total cost of the shell mirror was $23. Pretty nifty when you consider you can’t touch a smaller sized, similar mirror for less than $60.